Oftentimes, jumping to conclusions can make a person look ridiculous. Sometimes, the consequences are far more dire. But it's more entertaining to start with a trivial example.
Last month, the staff at Des Peres Park near St. Louis moved the picnic tables for a summer evening concert. Around the same time, fencing went up around a few trees to prevent further damage caused by excessive climbing.
The climbing had not been an issue before people started collecting those virtual monsters in the mobile game craze of the summer.
Immediately, the complaints started arriving through the city's website and on its social media page. White-hot Poke-rage prompted some to write that the "ill-timed" changes were "possibly retaliatory" strikes against Pokemon Go players. They decried it as "a wrong-headed move by the city," designed to push people out.
Slow your roll, Bulbasaur chaser.
Brian Schaffer, director of parks and recreation in Des Peres, reassured those who messaged that the park routinely moves the tables for all concerts. He had the fencing around the trees adjusted so there was more room to walk through them.
"It's nice to have people out in the park," he said, and people have different ways of enjoying it. In fact, when the benches were put back in place, Schaffer made sure more picnic tables were added where the Pokemon Go players had been congregating.
Even by suburban standards, it was a minor brouhaha, quickly resolved.
I wouldn't accuse the players who protested the changes of paranoia. There have been business owners who have complained about damage left behind by visitors cruising for the virtual creatures that appear in the smartphone game. Several sites around the country have gotten themselves removed from the app's locations. A Chicago lawmaker had proposed certain areas be off-limits to protect natural habitats and nesting grounds from getting trampled.
It's understandable that some players might get rankled or have questions about an unexpected change in a favored hangout. But it's the way in which a small group of people responded that is indicative of our times: React first. Assume the worst. Question later.
We live in an age of assumptions and instant judgments.
We've lost the ability to wait for information to form opinions and react. It may be partly because of a new information structure that allows the instant, rapid-fire spread of nuggets -- true or untrue -- coupled with talking heads who must fill hours before any real information is available.
The ease of spreading misinformation has, at its worst, endangered innocent lives or cost private citizens their reputations. We've seen this happen via social media during national tragedies, when people are desperate for information and the internet is rampant with people willing to exploit that for their own agendas.
Adding to that, the ability to fire off an angry missive has never been so simple. An angry tweet or online comment takes even fewer keystrokes than an enraged email.
Parents might recognize this behavior: Toddlers, tweens and teens often react this way to simple misunderstandings. The outsize reactions, accusations and distorted thinking are part of typical developmental stages we guide our children to grow out of. We try to teach them to ask a question rather than make an accusation. To check multiple, reliable sources for information. To be patient while situations unfold.
But what do we do when so many grown adults have forgotten or discarded these lessons?
We used to urge people to be civil to strangers because it was the right thing to do, or because it's how we would want to be treated. Now, perhaps we have to appeal to self-interest: Minimize your chances of looking like a fool.
Don't assume the parks are pushing Pokemon Go away.